My House Is In Ruins

Haggai

Yesterday we ran across Ezra 5:1-2, which mentions that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah come and encourage the people in Jerusalem to continue rebuilding the temple. As promised, today we are zooming into Haggai’s role in this. How convenient that there is a book in the bible named Haggai that gives us this information.

We know from Ezra 4 that the people in Jerusalem were forced to stop rebuilding the temple by the Persian king Artaxerxes. Some time passes by, and Haggai comes on the scene to prophesy to them. God has some things to get across to them.

The temple sits unfinished, and people of Jerusalem are either too fearful or apathetic to continue working on it. God calls them out on this, saying that his house is in ruins while they are decking out their own. They have been running around doing their own thing, and they never seem to have enough of anything. It’s a rat race. And since the house of God is being neglected, there is a drought in every aspect of their lives. God commands them to get working on the temple again.

This convicts their hearts as it should ours as well. What is the work God has called us to do that we’ve been putting off? What are we allowing to distract us from it? How could we be more intentional about building the opportunities to encounter God in our daily lives?

Heeding this conviction, the people begin building again, but there are some who are discouraged about something we saw in Ezra 3. The people who are old enough to have seen the original temple think this new temple is nothing in comparison. God tells them to take courage, and work, because he is with them. He assures them his spirit is among them as promised when he brought them out of Egypt. That hasn’t changed, don’t be afraid. God tells them he will “shake” things, which at first sounds like an earthquake, but is a dramatic way of saying he will upset the balance. The treasures will be transferred from the nations to his house. He owns all the gold and silver anyway! What doesn’t God own? God promises the splendor of this new temple will be more than the old, and that he will give prosperity.

When you work for God, you do what you can. It is easy to get discouraged. But the one who commissioned you will honor your efforts. He has all the resources in the universe at his fingertips to make it happen. What may be impossible for you is possible for God; he wants it to be your project too.

What follows is an interesting discussion about how contagious holy and unclean things are. If you are carrying around a holy ribeye steak and it touches your fries or soda, does it make the fries and soda holy too? No. But if you touch a dead guy and then touch your fries or soda, does it make them unclean? Yes. Holiness doesn’t just spread automatically, it takes work. Spreading bad things around takes no effort at all. You don’t have to do anything at all, things will fall apart without your attention. “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the LORD; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.” It’s like there was a contagion of apathy spreading while they were not doing the work, or the work they were doing was with the wrong heart, and things were not going well for them. But now that they are working on the temple according to God’s wishes, they will be blessed. They’ll have enough of everything.

What’s the reason God wants them to build a temple, anyway? It isn’t like God needs a temple. He would be just fine without one. The temple is the way they know how to connect with God and have his life-giving presence among them. To build this temple is to invite his presence. To not build it is to signal to God that they aren’t interested enough in his presence. For us, the temple isn’t a structure we go to, but a kind of metaphor for the sacredness of our own bodies, the network of others in our churches and faith communities, and the use of our time.

At the close of the book of Haggai, God mentions shaking things up in a dramatic way again, and that he will make the governor Zerubbabel a “signet ring” or chosen one. It sounds like God is making him a messiah of sorts. Of course, with hindsight, we know he won’t be the messiah. But he is being recognized by God as a leader of significance. And to add to his significance, he is from the line of David, mentioned in the genealogies of Christ provided by both Matthew and Luke. That’s quite the legacy, when you think about it.

There’s a lot that God wants to do, and he is asking for our cooperation, to take up the projects with him, and by doing so, to invite his presence. My advice to you, and I am speaking to myself as well, is to not put off those good things God has put on your heart to do. Even if you don’t feel ready, you’ve got the support network of the God of the universe, and your brothers and sisters in Christ.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – Haggai 1-2

Tomorrow we read Zechariah 1-7 as we continue on our

God is Present

1st Samuel 4-8

1 Samuel 4 3 NIV

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make any sound?

This is what I think of when I read 1 Samuel 4-8. The Israelites and Philistines seem to think that the presence of the ark of the covenant is equivalent to God being present and vice versa, if the ark is not anywhere around, God must be absent. The ark of the covenant is merely a physical and tangible symbol of God’s presence. And while it is true that some amazing things took place while the ark was in possession of the Israelites, it wasn’t always a guarantee that having it around would lead to a win. That my friends, is called manipulation. It’s honoring the thing rather than the Creator.
I feel like I might have shared this story with some of you before, but here I go again. Many years ago, I was out on the lake with some friends. It was a gorgeous day and we were wake boarding. I was out in the water waiting for the boat driver to circle around and I just started praying out loud, not loud enough for others to hear me, but it was obvious that my lips were moving. After I had gotten back into the boat, a friend asked me what I was talking about and I just responded, “I was praying”. And her response has stuck with me, “You can pray out on a lake?” She wasn’t kidding, when she asked me that question. She really wasn’t a church goer but she had gone through Catholic Catechism. She was so used to the act of praying being limited to certain environments that praying on a lake was a new concept for her.
It’s easy sometimes to compartmentalize our lives. If we’re not careful, we may find ourselves dressing, speaking, and acting one way at home, another way at church, and another way at school or work. We can become chameleons in our environments in order to cast a persona that works for our benefit, instead of being our real and authentic selves.
What 1 Samuel 4-8 can teach us, if we’re willing to pay attention, is that no matter where we are, what we are doing, or who we are with, God is present. And our ever-present God desires to be our authority, our protector, our provider, our friend. Should we ever be insistent on wanting something else to stand in his place, that is our choice, but that does not mean that God goes away. He will always be there, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, and whomever we’re with, loving us just the same as always.
Bethany Ligon
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+4-8&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be 1st Samuel 9-12 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Our God

Numbers 8-10 cain

Have you ever thought about your life as a sacrifice to God? When I see how the Levites were cleansed and given before God as a wave offering in verse 13, it makes me want to be the same way before God. Imagine being born into the tribe of Levi and knowing what your purpose is. Your purpose was to grow up, study the job of your calling, study the scriptures, live a righteous life, and eventually serve God for 25 years. But really, how different are any of our lives from that? Can we not have the same basic path? Can we not come to faith, prepare ourselves through study, serve God in our lives, and present ourselves as offerings before God? People give their lives to all sorts of things. Many people choose to make their lives about the pursuit of a career, the growing of a family, the building of a legacy, etc. As the book of Ecclesiastes teaches, life’s meaning comes from following God and keeping His commandments. There is nothing else that we can pursue which gives us meaning and when I read how the Levites were given into the service of God I am reminded of this. I’m not saying everyone must be a pastor or anything like that because serving the LORD comes in many fashions, but we all need to put our life before God as a wave offering. Nothing sounds more appealing to me than being purified before the LORD and serving Him as we see in 8:21. Through Christ, we can all be purified and serve God with the entirety of our lives.

As we move into chapter 9, there is a question that comes up about observing Passover and being unclean. We find the answer in verse 9:10-14.  To me, there is a personal aspect that comes out of the beginning of this chapter. I see real people seeking to live out God’s word. These people wanted so badly to correctly follow God that they asked questions about seeking the desire of God. I think there is a lesson to be learned from the attitude of these followers: be open and real with God in all things. Open up and ask questions, seek His desire, and listen to His response. Today, I think we should learn to posture ourselves more like this before God. He is real and willing to interact with His people and give us wisdom. Sometimes we think that the time for God to interact with His people has passed, even if we don’t believe that, sometimes we act like that is the truth.

Verses 15-16 are an awesome manifestation of God among His people. His presence was continuous around the Tabernacle. Try to imagine the scene in your head. Imagine you are camping with the Israelites. In the middle of the night you walk out of your tent and in the distance, there is the warm glow, looking like fire, surrounding the Tabernacle in the distance. Have you ever seen a big fire from a distance? The warm glow that casts against the clouds in the sky. Imagine that scene every night, knowing that God is here, living among you, watching over you, and showing you His power. Don’t be so fast to read over verses, use your imagination and try to put yourself in the landscape. Imagine the smells, sights, and sounds that would have been observed by the people in the book. This practice brings the Bible to life for us, especially in the book of Numbers, where there are a lot of mind blowing events that take place. Numbers is a hot bed for God’s power manifested like no other time in history. Take your time reading these words and putting yourself in the shoes of the people. It would have been an awesome time to be alive and to witness God working in miraculous ways.

Another point we see in chapter 9 is just how literally God leads His people through the wilderness. When He moved, they moved. God still wants to lead His people today. It might not be a cloud of smoke or fire, literally leading us to the place we need to go, but through prayer and faith He can lead us to great places He has prepared for us. We should be people like those in 9:23. “At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’s charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.” When God moves, we should move. When God stays, we should stay. He is leading us to things prepared for us that we can’t see or imagine, but if we follow faithfully, we will be glad we did.

Here’s an intriguing thought. Let’s say you had no modern-day technology – how would you communicate and organize roughly 2.5 million people? Seems like an overwhelming task to me. The system that God put into place at the beginning of chapter 10 is genius. I’m not surprised God came up with such a good system, but none the less, I’m impressed by the simplicity and effectiveness. Now that all the pieces are in place, the tabernacle, the camp organization, the communication system, and the leading system, it is the time to set out for the promise land. The first move was from Sinai to Paran and took three days (10:11-13, 33). We see the organization it took to move millions of people across the desert in verses 14-28. Then come some of the coolest words in the book of Numbers “35 Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, ‘Rise up, O Lord! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.’ 36 When it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O Lord, To the myriad thousands of Israel.’” The protection of the LORD went before them and watched over them in their journey, clearing the path of any obstacles that would stop them from reaching the promise land. God is for His people. I can’t explain how these verses make me feel, but I know that it’s awesome. I love seeing how God extends His arm to deal in the lives of His people. Even though seeing a cloud move might be more obvious, God still extends His arm to deal in the lives of His people today. Take some time to think about the prayers you have prayed. How have they been answered? This is God working in your life. I have seen people changed and situations work out in unusual ways. At some point, you have to stop saying things are coincidence and say that God is working in His people. The same powerful God we see in Numbers is the same God who deals with us today. Don’t forget, the God who liberated millions of people from Egypt is the same God who seeks your heart.

Josiah Cain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+8-10&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Numbers 11-13 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Making Space for God’s Leading

Exodus 39-40

Exodus 39 43 NIV

Throughout history God has lead his people many ways. To a few he spoke audibly, others in dreams but he used the tabernacle to lead the Israelites. They set up the tabernacle to the very detail as God requested. After it was complete, 40:34 says

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 

God made his presence known and clearly began to lead the people on their travels. Whenever the cloud left the people knew it was time to get up and go. Whenever the cloud would stop the people would also stop.

Sometimes I wish that God led us today in such an obvious manner. I need fool proof directions just to get across town let alone the race we are called to run as followers of Christ.

Although it is not as obvious, God still leads his people. He still tells us when and where to go and also when and where to stay.

The tabernacle was a dedicated place for God in the lives of the Israelites. They gave of their time, energy and resources to have a spot for God in their lives. Many often claim that they want direction from God but have not made space for his leading in their lives. They have not made time or space for God.

After the ascension of Christ, the believers were blessed with God’s presence in an even better way than the tabernacle. God’s power, his presence, his spirit can dwell in YOU!

Will you make time and space in your life – for the glory of God to lead you where he would have you go? And further, are you willing to follow that lead?

John Wincapaw

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+39-40&version=NIV

Tomorrow we begin the book of Leviticus – chapters 1-4 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

In God’s Presence

Exodus 25-27

Exodus 25 8 NIV

                Places of worship come in all different shapes and sizes.  I have worshipped God in huge cathedrals with impressive pipe organs and altars overlaid with gold and stained glass windows.  I have also worshipped God in open-air tabernacles with sawdust floors.  I have worshipped God in a deer stand, at the beach, on a mountaintop and on a table undergoing radiation.  I have worshipped God in loud and energetic services with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards and I have worshipped him in places with no sound at all except the flickering flame of a single candle.

                I believe God loves to be worshipped in lots of ways and in lots of places.  Even in the Biblical stories God was worshipped on simple stone altars, in burning bushes, on mountain tops and down in valleys.

                Israel was at a critical time in their formation and it was important for them to have a steady reminder of God’s presence.  God made his presence visible to them as they journeyed with both a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night.  As they continued their journey across the wilderness, God chose to make his visible presence known to them in a portable house of worship.  This place would provide structure in the midst of their community wherever they stopped to make camp.  The tent of meeting or tabernacle would be an ongoing visible sign that God’s glory was in their midst.  And God taught them how to be a holy nation. He used various symbols and rituals of sacrifice and worship as a way to drill home to them his holiness and the consequences of sin.

                How God chose to do this is quite interesting.  He could have simply built a temple Himself in the heavens and dropped it down fully formed on earth.  However, God chose instead to invite His people to become active participants in creating this place of worship.

                First, God began with their willing desire to give.  “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather acacia wood;  olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).   This was not a mandatory tithe that was required; this was an offering to be willingly given and received.

                Where did the people get all of these valuable commodities?  If you will recall, as they were leaving Egypt they were given many valuable items by the Egyptian peoples – one might say this was payment to help compensate for years of slavery.  They had these items in their possession already.  Those who were willing could give them to help create the tent of meeting and the prescribed worship items inside of the temple, which included the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lampstand as well as the material for the tabernacle itself, and the altar, courtyard and the oil to keep the lamps burning.  All of the materials were freely donated.  The people of God used their own skill to build the items from these donated materials – carpenters, weavers, stonemasons, goldsmiths and others each made their own contributions to the creation of this place of worship.  In this way, everyone in the community that wished to participate had buy in to the tabernacle.  It truly was a communal place of worship.

                Once the nation finished their journey through the wilderness and took possession of the Promised Land, they would eventually transition from a portable tent of meeting to a permanent temple under the leadership of King Solomon.  However, this tent of meeting served them well for 40 years in the wilderness and many more during the times of the judges, and king’s Saul and David.

                For Christians, we do not worship God in a tabernacle or physical temple and we do not bring sacrifices of sheep or goats or bulls for an offering to God.  For us, the Church itself is the temple of God.  I am not talking about the building where the Church gathers to worship, I am talking about the actual people who gather to worship, and we are the Church.  Jesus said whenever 2-3 gather in his name that he is there in their midst.  There is no one single right way or place to worship God.  It is wherever God’s people come together.  Christian Worship does not have to follow follow a strict pattern.  Worship is where we gather to read the word of God, pray, worship, encourage each other and exhort one another to good works, break bread and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.  Blood sacrifices are not necessary because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he entered into the holy of holies once and for all and gave his own body as the final sacrifice for all of our sins.

                One thing remains unchanged from the time of Israel in the wilderness tent of meeting and the Church today.  God still welcomes us to bring our offerings from the heart as a way to say thank you.  We can still bring tangible offerings, and we can still offer our gifts and talents as ways of showing God our deep gratitude for all of his blessings to us.  It is not all that important how we worship or where we worship, but it is very important that we worship and we bring our offerings freely to worship God.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+25-27&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 28-29 on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Tâmîym, ʼâbad, kâlâh and kârath

Psalm 37 22

            Today, we are in the middle of the week and we find ourselves in the middle of our Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading) of Psalm 37.* Today’s reading is a little more in-depth, so if you’re in a hurry you might wish to come back to this at a time later today when you can invest a few minutes into reading/praying.  My goal here is not just to give you a fish and feed you for a day but to teach you how to fish so you can learn to feed yourself for the rest of your life (and feed others).

            Remember, the purpose of Lectio is to draw us into God’s presence and rest through reading, meditating upon and praying with the Bible.  While the goal is not simply intellectual understanding, but relationship with God, it is still important that when we read and meditate we are doing so correctly.  We want to be as accurate as possible about the meaning of God’s Word.  We want to think about what it actually says and what it meant when it was written and what it means for us today.  It wouldn’t make much sense to spend a lot of time meditating upon something that was not correct.

            If you have internet access, there are some tools readily available which cost nothing and can help you.

            One tool is Bible Gateway.  I began working in a Christian bookstore when I was attending George Mason University back in 1982.  I became aware of a lot of different Bible translations that were available (beyond the King James).  I started building a library of various Bible translations and nearly 40 years later I have over 50 different translations on my bookshelves.  You can now get almost every one of those translations (and many more) on Bible Gateway.  Choose the text you wish to study, and choose which translations you wish to use and you can see a side by side comparison of the texts.  This can be helpful when you are studying a Biblical passage.  It can help you understand the nuances of meaning.  Some translations are more or less word for word, while others are more thought for thought.  There are also paraphrase versions which attempt to convey the meaning in modern contextual language.

            The second tool is Blue Letter Bible.  While the available translations are fewer than on Bible Gateway, BLB allows you to do a detailed analysis and word study of various words.  You can look up the original Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek words and see some of the various ways that word is used in the Bible and have a greater understanding of what the Bible was saying back when originally written and you bridge that into modern day language/ways of thinking and speaking.

            With that said, I’ve identified 4 key words that are used in today’s reading and give you a summary of the word meaning and usage in the Bible:

תָּמִים tâmîym, taw-meem’;  entire (literally, figuratively or morally); also   integrity, truth:—without blemish, complete, full, perfect, sincerely, sound, without spot, undefiled, upright, whole.

אָבַד ʼâbad, aw-bad’; to wander away, i.e. lose oneself; by implication to perish:—break, destroy(-uction), not escape, fail, lose, (cause to, make) perish, spend, be undone, utterly, be void of, have no way to flee.

כָּלָה kâlâh, kaw-law’; to end, to cease, be finished, perish, consume, destroy (utterly), be done, , expire, fail, faint, finish, fulfill, wholly reap, make clean riddance, spend, take away, waste.

כָּרַת kârath, kaw-rath’; to cut off, down or asunder, by implication, to destroy or consume; destroy, fail, lose, perish.

With that background in place, you are ready to proceed with today’s Lectio Divina reading of Psalm 37:18-22.

  1. Read.  Read through the passage slowly, at least 3 times:

18 The blameless (תָּמִים tâmîym, taw-meem’) spend their days under the Lord’s care,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

20 But the wicked will perish (אָבַד ʼâbad, aw-bad’):
Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field,
they will be consumed (כָּלָה kâlâh, kaw-law’), they will go up in smoke.

21 The wicked borrow and do not repay,
but the righteous give generously;
22 those the Lord blesses will inherit the land,
but those he curses will be destroyed (כָּרַת kârath, kaw-rath’)

  1. Meditate.  Choose a word or phrase from the text to  meditate upon/ think deeply about.

For me, I chose 3 words- perish, consumed, and destroyed.  Those who are wicked will perish, be consumed and destroyed.  The Hebrew abad contains the idea of wander away, lose oneself, have no way to flee, be destroyed.

            As I think about what this means I’m reminded of the story of Christopher McCandless whose story is recounted in the book “Into the Wild” (and later movie) written by Jon Krakauer.  Chris was just a few years younger than me and grew up just a few miles from me in Northern Virginia.  After college he decided to ditch everything and walk into the wilderness of Alaska and live off the land.  Unfortunately, he did almost no preparation and he lacked the minimal survival skills necessary for such an adventure.  He crossed through a small stream and found temporary shelter in an abandoned school bus.  Unfortunately, within a short time the stream swelled to an un-crossable raging torrent and Chris was essentially trapped.  He spent weeks and months unable to escape that spot and soon ran out of food and was forced to forage.  He ended up dying of poisoning from eating poisonous berries.

            I tell that brief story because it illustrates the meaning of abad, kalah and karath.  He wandered away and got lost, trapped and had nowhere to flee to and his own foolishness ultimately destroyed his life.  That’s what the Psalm says is happening or will happen to the wicked.  I know that sometimes people have trouble thinking that a loving God would punish or destroy people.  As I think about this Psalm, the greater nuance emerges – God doesn’t choose to punish anyone.  Ultimately we end up punishing ourselves when we wander off the path that God has given us to life.  It’s a matter of cause and effect.

A few weeks ago I went hiking in Zion National Park in Utah.  A gorgeous place.  It had paths and the signs on the paths warned “stay on the path- it is dangerous and life threatening if you leave the path.”  I stayed on the path, it was difficult at times, but I remained safe and returned alive.  Had I veered off the path and ended up falling down a steep embankment to my death, then I alone would have been responsible for my destruction, not the park rangers, or God.

            This Psalm is like the sign on the path: stick to the path or you’ll destroy yourself.  But if you stick to the path, you’ll be blessed with a beautiful inheritance God has planned for you.

            As I personalize this reading I have to ask myself.  When have I gotten off the path God told me to stay on?  Have I ever wandered and gotten lost?  Isaiah 53 says that I, like everyone else, am like a sheep that sometimes wanders away.  How has Jesus, the good shepherd, come searching for me when I’ve wandered astray?  How does the Gospel reveal God’s merciful love and grace that sends his son to seek and save me when I’m lost.  How am I called by Jesus to do this same work of seeking those who are lost and leading them back to the path?

            You might choose a different word or phrase upon which to reflect, but that is an example of how my deep reading of a short part of this text raises some important issues in my mind and heart.

  1.  Pray– I pray a prayer of gratitude to God for loving me enough to go looking for me when I get off the path.  I pray a prayer of confession to God, for I am still “prone to wander” off the path.  I recognize the important mission that I’ve been given by God to join the search for others who have gone off the path and the responsibility I have to point the people in my care- my family, my Church, my co-workers, my community, to the one who guides them back to the right path and helps them stay on the path, Jesus.  I invite you to bring to prayer whatever you’ve been meditating upon.
  2. Rest in God.  I’m so grateful to God for his mercy and love.  I’ve been lost, but now I’m safely in the arms of my loving God.  I invite you to rest in God too.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

*If you are unfamiliar with the Lectio Divina method of prayer/scripture study please refer back to the Sunday, August 11th  devotion.

Delight in the Lord

Psalm 37 4a

For this week’s devotions I’m going to focus, again on the Psalms.  Earlier this year we looked at 7 different types of Psalms and had an example of each.
This week I want to look at only one Psalm.  Each day we will consider a section of the Psalm and I’m going to invite you to use it in your devotional time.  Some of you may be familiar with the way I’m going to ask you to read this Psalm, it’s called Lectio Divina.  If you’re familiar, great!  If not, I’ll give you a brief introduction.

Lectio Divina is a Latin term which simply means “sacred reading” .  It’s been around for a long time.  It’s simply a way of meditatively and prayerfully reading a short passage of scripture in a way that leads into prayer and time in God’s presence.  There are 4 stages to Lectio Divina: Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.
1.        Read.    Take a short passage of scripture and read through it several times.  Read it in a personal way.  You’re not reading it to prepare a lesson or a sermon or to share it with someone else.  You are reading it to allow God to speak to you through His word.
2.       Meditate.   As you read, choose a single word or short phrase that really speaks to you and think about it (To meditate is to chew on it with your mind, internalize it, and chew on it some more engaging your whole person, thoughts, feelings etc… think about how a cow ruminates on grass or hay).
3.        Pray.   After spending time meditating on that word or phrase and really personalizing it, then bring it to God in prayer.  Does it lead you to praise God?  Does it lead you to thank God?  Does it raise questions that you need to bring to God?  Does it call forth a sense of guilt for a sin that you need to confess to God?  Whatever it brings forth in you, bring that to God in prayer and spend some time talking to God about whatever it is that your reading and meditation has brought to mind.
4.       Rest in God.  The final stage of lectio divina is to simply bring you into God’s presence.  You know how great it is when you are with someone you love and you can just enjoy being present with them…  no one’s looking at their phone, no one’s talking or really doing anything other than simply enjoying being in the other’s presence?  Do that with God.  Just spend some time enjoying God’s presence.

That’s really all there is to it.  If you Google Lectio Divina or look it up in books on Christian spirituality you may find other fancy words like: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratorio, Contemplacio etc… They are all just Latin words that mean the same thing: Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.
I hope you’ll try it this week.

I’ve chosen Psalm 37 to look at every day this week.  I’ve chosen this Psalm because I’ve been spending a lot of time this year meditating on this one Psalm, especially verse 4.

Today, I want to look at the first 4 verses:
“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Read:
As I read through this there are several things that immediately catch my attention.  How often do I fret because of those who are evil?  Do I see the junk that people do and find myself stewing over it?  How can they do that stuff?  What is WRONG with them?
As I dig a little deeper –  Am I ever envious of those who do wrong?  Do I ever look at the rich, the good looking, the famous, the powerful and see the terrible lifestyle choices they always seem to make, and then get ticked off because they have all the goodies?  Do I envy their money or the stuff their money can buy?
How often am I guilty of looking at what other people are doing instead of looking at God and making sure that I’m doing what God has called me to do?  I see an invitation to Trust God and do what I know is right and let God worry about the results.
But it’s the last verse that really captures my heart: “Take delight in the Lord.”
What does it mean to delight in something?  Three of my grandchildren all turned one this summer.  I got to be present at one of their birthday parties, and I saw videos of the other two who live in Minnesota.  In each case it was amazing to see them “take delight” in their birthday “smash cakes”.  They would dig in, squeeze it, taste it and get really excited.  I still remember the looks of delight on their faces.
You might take delight in tasting delicious food, seeing an old friend or family member, your favorite sports team winning the championship, seeing an “A” on your paper, trying on your wedding dress (or seeing your bride walk down the aisle toward you in that dress).
God wants us to delight in Him more than anything else.

 Mediate:

Spend some time thinking about what it means to delight in God.  When have you delighted in God?  What was it like?
Pray:

Spend some time talking with God about what you’ve been thinking about delighting in Him.

 

Rest:

Now, delight in God.  Spend some time just enjoying God’s presence.

 

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Out with the Old, In with the New

2 Corinthians 3

2 Corinthians 3 9

This short chapter packs a punch while explaining the differences between the Old and New Covenants.  Any visual learners out there?  I like to SEE things; it helps me make connections better than just listening or reading. So here’s a little chart comparing the Old and New Covenants as taught by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, verses 6-18.

Old Covenant

New Covenant

Verse

·      Of the letter (law)

·      Letter kills

·      Of the Spirit

·      Spirit gives life

Vs. 6
·      Brought death

·      Engraved in letters on stone

·      Came with glory

·      Israelites couldn’t look at the face of Moses (because he had been with God)

  Vs. 7
  ·      Even more glorious Vs. 8
·      Condemns men

·      Glorious

·      Much more glorious

·      Brings righteousness

Vs. 9
·      Was glorious

·      No glory now in comparison with (new) surpassing glory

  Vs. 10
·      Fading away

·      Came with glory

·      Much greater glory

·      Lasts

Vs. 11
  ·      We have hope

·      We are very bold

Vs. 12
·      Moses put a veil over his face to keep Israelites from gazing at it (radiance of being with God) ·      We are not like Moses Vs. 13
·      Their minds were made dull

·      Veil remains when old covenant read

·      Veil has not been removed

·      Only in Christ is veil taken away Vs. 14
·      Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.   (Don’t see Jesus)   Vs. 15
  ·      Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, veil is taken away Vs. 16
  ·      The Lord is the Spirit

·      Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom

Vs. 17
  ·      We have unveiled faces

·      All reflect the Lord’s glory

·      Being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit

Vs. 18

I am reminded of a great free theme week of devotions this year by Jay Laurent on the Presence of God from February 3-9, 2019 (the New Covenant comes on the scene on February 7 https://grow16biblereading.wordpress.com/2019/02/page/2/).  Throughout the week Jay showed how God was revealing a plan to bring His presence to the people.  And, his plan grew and grew in greatness and glory.  From the very beginning, with creation, his plan was good (and even “very good”).  But it didn’t stop there!  God gave the law – the Old Covenant – to show people what was required to draw close to Him.  Only trouble is, humanity couldn’t get it right.  Everyone was guilty as a lawbreaker and deserved death.  Problem – because in death they were not drawn to God, but they were dead.  Solution – something or someone to remove the sin and show the power of resurrection.   Enter – Jesus!   The New Covenant!  The opportunity for sins to be erased.  Righteousness was in reach – and with it restoration with the Father.  And, that’s not all – Jesus would also bring the opportunity for resurrection and eternal life with God in the Coming Kingdom.  This is the miracle of God’s plan of life with Him that just keeps growing more and more glorious!

 

Thankful for the New!  Looking forward to the Newest!
Marcia Railton

 

 

 

God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

God’s Presence and You and Me

Text: Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2 22.png

We’ve been talking about the presence of God, temples, places where God dwells, and the intersection of heaven and earth. We’ve made stops at creation, the garden, the tabernacle, and the exile. Yesterday we talked about Jesus and how he was the new and improved temple.

 

This Jesus character, as it turns out, is pivotal in the biblical narrative. He changes everything. He turned the world upside-down and left everyone trying to put the pieces together and figure out what it all means. Ever had one of those moments when you learn some new information that forces you to rethink much of what you know? Everybody at the time was sorting out the reality that Christ died and was resurrected.

 

As you can imagine, Jesus is a pretty big deal when it comes to our topic of the presence of God. He changed that too. Not only was he the new and improved temple, but he was ushering in a new age of the temple. I am not sure what version of the temple we are on now, but this one is bigger. You can’t really have a better temple than Jesus himself, but you can make it bigger and distributed more widely.

 

Mark 15:38 mentions that as Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. This veil was like a barrier before you can get into the holy of holies in the temple. It was like a layer between us and the presence of God. The veil being torn symbolizes that God’s presence is no longer contained in a special room. Jesus, being our high priest, paid an offering of blood once and for all, for all of our sins. There no longer needs to be a separation between us and God’s presence. Because of what he did, we are all acceptable in God’s presence. Hebrews 9 is a great chapter talking about Jesus being our high priest and making this sacrifice for us.

 

Yesterday I left you with a prediction from John the baptizer (yeah, because saying “baptist” sounds even weirder) that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The most dramatic fulfillment of this happens in Acts 2. There’s a sound of a violent rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on people, people being filled with the Holy Spirit, and speaking languages they don’t even know. People are left trying to make sense of it, even supposing they were all drunk, until Peter stands up and explains. What is happening is a fulfillment of what is written by the prophet Joel. God is pouring out his Spirit on everyone. Peter drives it home with this statement in Acts 2:36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” This hurt to hear. Peter follows up by telling them to repent and be baptized, and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

With this strange event and Peter’s speech, God has started a new kind of temple. It’s me and it’s you. Now with the barrier of sin being dealt with, God can live in each of us as his temple. We are now his temple, individually (1 Co 3:16-17, 6:19) and collectively (Eph 2). His presence has been made highly accessible to us, through what we call the Holy Spirit, or the power of God, living in us.

 

Brothers and sisters, we are the church, and we are called to work together using the different natural abilities and talents we have, and using the special abilities God gives us through his Holy Spirit. Paul says to the Ephesians in Eph 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

 

So this is where we are. I feel that passage is more about bringing the gentiles and Jews of the time into the same fold together, but it has a beautiful application for the church today. We are being fit together and built into a temple where God dwells. How privileged we are, and how amazing it is! Praise God that he has made the tent big enough to include all of us in his presence.

 

As good as this all is (and it truly is!), it gets even better. Paul calls the Spirit in us a down payment or a deposit for what is yet to come (Eph 1:4, 2Co 5:5). Just an appetizer. What God is working on is going to exceed all of our expectations of what our future with him looks like. All of them.

-Jay Laurent